Pets in the Workplace Reduce Stress

Many employees are in favor of having pets in their workplace and believe they help reduce stress and improve their health, a recent study suggests.

“The response was overwhelmingly positive,” co-author Dr. Meredith Wells, assistant professor of psychology at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky, told Reuters Health. ”People thought pets reduced stress, improved job satisfaction and reduced turnover.”

Other studies have found that pets can reduce stress and blood pressure levels for children, older adults, and sick patients, but few studies have examined the effect of pets in the workplace, Wells said.

Wells and co-author Dr. Rose Perrine, professor of psychology at Eastern Kentucky University, recruited 31 local businesses around Kentucky that allowed employees and owners to bring cats and dogs to the workplace. The 193 employees rated their feelings about having pets in the office on a six-point scale.

The results were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

The companies that allowed pets tended to be smaller, and they did so because the owner or manager wanted to bring his or her own pet to work. Most employees enjoyed having pets in the workplace even workers who didn’t own pets themselves. Employees reported that pets in the workplace help foster social interaction and are good for business.

Not everyone was entirely enthusiastic. Some drawbacks reported were noise from barking, hair on the furniture, the possibility of the animal urinating or defecating on the floor, and allergies. There was also some concern that clients or customers may have allergies or be afraid of the animal.

However, these responses were in the minority. “When we asked what were the drawbacks, the most common response was, ‘There aren’t any,”’ Wells said.

Wells admitted there are several possible factors that could have led to biased results.

First, only about half the employees returned the survey, which could have been a group that had strong positive feelings on the topic.

Second, the survey only included employees at companies currently allowing pets, who would presumably be in favor of the policy. The survey did not include employees at companies that may have tried and abolished pets in the workplace, who may have had a more negative response.

Also, the researchers did not objectively measure whether the pets reduced worker’s stress and increased their productivity. “We didn’t take objective measures; we asked about people’s perception of the pets’ effect,” Wells said. “Because these are perceptions, they may not be accurate.”

However, Wells said she would encourage companies to experiment with a pet policy. “I would cautiously recommend it to people, saying they should give it a try and after a short time assess the employees’ satisfaction,” she said. “However, it may not be appropriate for every company.”

Excerpt from Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 2001; 6.81-87.